Yo! Ho! And A Bottle of Rum
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Sea Stories magazine December 1926. Digitized by Philip Bolton Jr. and Doug Frizzle April 2010.
There have been those who have said that rum is an invention of the devil. But in this instance an empty rum bottle brought renewed vigor to worn-out seamen.
“MON, I tell ye there's good money in it,” cried Mathewson, the burly Scotch engineer, as he poured himself a liberal draft of Dewar’s from the bottle on the table in his New York lodging place.
Captain Kirkby smiled skeptically. “Aye, money put into it,” he said sarcastically. “But I don’t see where there’s any comin’ from it.”
“Ye dinna, dinna ye?" retorted the other. “Hoot, mon! have ye been adoon the islands of late? Well, I ha’ and I’m tellin’ ye there’s cargoes fair rottin’ in the Port of Spain harbor for want of towboats, and Ross with his two old tubs is pocketing pounds and dollars faster than he can scoop ‘em in. Fifty dollars it was he stuck Carmichael to tow one lighter ashore.”
“H’m,” Muttered Kirkby puffing contemplatively at his pipe. “And even so, Donald, 'tis little good 'twill be to us. Here we sit, drinkin' the last wee drop of whisky and wi' less'n two hundred quid atwixt us, and like to be a main long time findin' a berth. You're a uncommon canny man, even for
"Would it now?" cried Mathewson. "Do ye think I'd be botherin' my brains thinkin' on it if I'd not a mind how I'd be puttin’ my ideas into practice? Jerry, me lad, two hundred pound’ll no' purchase a towboat as ye say, but 'twill go a fair long way towards buyin’ a wee bit tug I have my mind on, an' 'tis a company I intend to form—Jerry Kirkby, Donald Mathewson and Billy McGuire."
"Have ye spoken to Billy as yet?" asked Kirkby.
Mathewson nodded. "Aye,” he replied "and he can raise another hundred pounds. I ha' a hundred and forty, an' how much can ye add, Jerry?"
"I’d rather be takin’ a look at yon tug before I'm committin' myself. And," he added, "where have ye a mind to get the cash for provisioning the ship and for hiring the crew?”
"We'll not be hirin' a crew,” announced the engineer. "Do ye mind that 'Badian boy, the nigger we found stowed away on the Petrel? Well, me laddie, 'tis but Wednesday last I met him, an' he's fair mad to be settin' his eyes on palm trees an’ his teeth in sugar cane again. Aye, he’ll be leapin' at the chance of signin' on along wi' us for the sake of passage. He’ll do fine for steward an' cook. An’ ye’ll be skipper, Jerry, an' 'twill be myself that's attendin' to the engines."
Kirkby snorted. "And is it captain, engineer and cook that’ll be handling a tug on a voyage from New York to Trinidad?" he demanded.
The engineer gulped down another glass of raw spirits and wiped his unshaven lips with the back of a huge, hairy hand.
"Is it Jerry Kirkby that's askin’ that fool question?" he growled. "’Twould be a main poor engineer and a discredit to Dundee that couldna' fulfill all the duties of engineer an' boiler-room gang in a wee bit tug. But I’m too familiar with the incompetence of Clyde masters to expect one to serve in the capacity of captain an' mate, even on a tuppence-ha’penny tug. No, laddie, me lad, I ha’ me mind set on a bonny stoker an' a lad as’ll serve as mate. ‘Tis only a deck hand we're lackin'. Do ye ken the lad in Lee's restaurant? The lad they call Arthur?"
Kirkby nodded assent "Aye, the lad that’s a bit sickly looking’,” he remarked.
“The same,” agreed Mathewson. "It's consumption he has, I'm thinkin’, but he’s not far gone, an’ a change of air an' a sea voyage’ll be the makin' a new man of him. The duties of a deckhand aboard the tug’ll not be so onerous, I’m thinkin'. An' Harry Tisdale'll go for mate on the chance of makin' a bit the islands—if we’ll give him a tenth share in the tug. 'Tis only the fireman I’m needin’.”
The captain chuckled. "Maybe 'tis a scheme that can be worked out," he admitted. “But I still have my doubts. Providin’ —mind, 'tis providing —I say, I have a look at the ship and am minded to take the risk, I can ship yon fireman. ‘Tis Sam Baxter, old John's son. He's clerkin' in a haberdashery on Fourteenth Street and was complainin' to me that he's gettin' too fat—insufficent exercise and too much food. And he's fair pinin' with homesickness for the islands."
"He’ll ha' abundance of what he lacks an' none too muckle of what he eats, if he signs along as fireman wi' me,” grinned Mathewson.
"And I'm thinking continued Kirkby, unheeding the interruption, "that I have a bit of credit with that thief of a chandler, Abe Kolsky. Aye, I think I can wheedle Abe into supplyin’ us with coals and ship's stores.”
"The tug can be had for two hundred an’ fifty pounds, cash down," said the engineer. "Ye might invest what ye wish in proveesions, Jerry, an' take a bit interest in the ship for your services.
"I'll see the craft first," replied Kirkby. "Come along."
Mathewson led the way to the Brooklyn waterfront and to a rickety old dock where, in a disused slip, a small wooden towboat lay moored, with a list which to Kirkby's practiced eyes, told of her keel resting on the mud beneath the filthy water.
"And ye'd be askin’ human beings to risk their lives in that! he exclaimed. “Why, man, she’d flounder the first day out. She's built of deals and tenpenny nails, I'm thinkin’.”
“Dinna exhibit your ignorance, laddie,” retorted the engineer. "Her engines are a bit old, but they're sweet as new, an’ her boiler's not too bad. 'Twill pass inspection for sixty pounds pressure.”
“And where'll we carry the coals for steaming to Trinidad?" demanded the captain, as, aboard the tug, he made a careful examination of the craft.
“We'll not be carryin’ coals for so long a voyage," Mathewson informed him. “By boardin' up the rails a bit we carry sufficient to steam to Porto Rico, and from yon 'twill be fair simple to steam adoon the islands obtaining coals as we go.
''She might make it,” admitted Kirkby at last. "I've seen worse boats and 'tis summer weather. I'm thinkin’ 'twill do no harm to try. ‘Tis a gambler's chance, but I'm riskin' only my time and the fifty quid I'll invest in provisions."
Thus was the Mathewson Towboat Company, Ltd., formed, and the tug Mamie changed hands. But there was much to be done before she was fit to brave the Atlantic, in the opinions of even the reckless Kirkby, the optimistic Mathewson or the former stevedore, McGuire.
And the owners discovered that repairs cost far more than they had anticipated. Indeed, by the time the Mamie had been patched, calked and had had her bulwarks raised two feet to accommodate a deckload of coal, the Mathewson Towboat Company, Ltd., was bankrupt. But that did not trouble the managing owner in the least. He had been literally dead broke so many times that to find himself penniless once more was of no consequence. Moreover, was he not, for the first time in his life of ups and downs, the owner of a vessel, a towboat which, once they reached Trinidad, was sure to net them all a comfortable income? Even Kirkby became convinced that the Mamie was the open sesame to fortune, and became almost as enthusiastic as his crony and old shipmate when, with a brave tooting of her whistle, the Mamie's screw churned the water into foam, and backing from her slip, she swung about and headed for the Narrows.
In the tiny galley was the Barbadian cook and steward, Tom. Arthur busily coiled the mooring lines and declared he already felt better. Tisdale, sober for once, was bawling orders as loudly and authoritatively as though mate on a liner. Sam Baxter sweated in the stokehold, feeding the insatiable maw of the furnace and losing superfluous weight simultaneously, while Mathewson nursed his engines and Kirkby twirled the wheel in the pilot house.
In addition to these there was still another member of the Mamie's crew. Kirkby had found a ragged, pinched-faced urchin hanging about the dock, and out of kindness of heart had offered the lad a place as cabin boy. As there was no cabin, properly speaking, Jimmy's duties were somewhat vague; and as every one called upon him for this, that and the other thing, he was really the busiest member of the crew.
All went well until the Mamie had passed Sandy Hook. But once she was outside the harbor and buried her snubby nose in the Atlantic swell, things began to happen. With the deckload of coal she was heavy and sluggish—two seas broke over her bows in quick succession. The hastily erected plank bulwarks gave way, and, shaking herself as if vastly relieved, the Mamie rose buoyantly to the next sea, leaving the precious fuel at the bottom of the bay.
Cursing vociferously, the skipper whirled the wheel viciously to swing the tug back toward the harbor, for to continue on minus the deckload of coal was impossible. Evidently, the Mamie resented this rather rough treatment, for she tossed her stern, heeled far to one side, and as the superstructure swayed drunkenly and ominous cracking sounds issued from the fastenings, Kirkby leaped from the pilot house. With a roar the wheel spun back and the tug went reeling toward the Long Island shore, wallowing in the trough of the seas, as if intent on seeing Coney Island before her ancient fabric disintegrated altogether.
Just in time the skipper recovered himself and dashing to the helm got her back on her course.
With a spanner in one hand and a wad of waste in the other, Mathewson appeared on deck, Baxter, dropping his shovel, emerged from the fireroom, and Tisdale shouted confused and contradictory orders. Arthur was far too busy, leaning over the side and attending to his own troubles, to pay any attention to the fate of the Mamie or his fellow men, while Tom continued calmly to fry eggs and bacon and Jimmy imperturbably peeled potatoes.
But the worst was over. Before the seas the Mamie behaved as well as a harbor tug of mature age could be expected, and with the few remaining planks left after the coal had gone overside, the twisted and shaky superstructure was braced and shored sufficiently to restore the skipper's confidence. But it was quite evident that it was hopeless to attempt to cross the hundreds of miles of open ocean between
Chagrined, disappointed, but still determined to reach their goal, those on the Mamie brought her once more to her slip. Without funds they faced the apparently unsolvable problem of putting the craft into condition for a second attempt. But they did not despair. Working themselves, getting the necessities by cajolery from old friends and acquaintances on credit, Mathewson and the others managed to make rough-and-readly repairs, and even obtained a second deckload of coal. In the mean time plans had been altered to meet conditions.
Kirkby had pointed out that it would be safer and just as easy to go down the coast via the inside passage and then cut across to Nassau and hence to Haiti. Mathewson, however, had cast cold water on this scheme by reminding them that there would be tolls to pay, as well as other charges to meet, and Kirkby had retorted that they might pick up a tow and thus earn enough to cover the additional expenses. Then Tisdale and the others had come to the rescue. Together they pooled their resources and turned over the resultant sum of two hundred dollars to Mathewson. It was a wholly inadequate amount, but with hopes of finding a tow on route, the Mamie’s crew again bade farewell to New York and headed for the Kills.
All went satisfactorily and without trouble until Albemerle Sound was reached, and the towboat argonauts were congratulating themselves upon the success of their venture. They had been working long hours; they had been on rather slender rations, and Kirkby suggested that here was a good spot to rest for a few days. A few miles inland was a small town, and Jimmy was dispatched for much needed provisions.
It was a long tramp, Jimmy was tired, and, reaching the Mamie laden with packages, he hastily relieved his wearied arms by placing bags and bundles on a convenient upended box before carrying them to the galley. Hardly had he stretched his arms when Tom shouted for him, and, hastily picking up two of the packages, Jimmy hurried off.
An instant later, Mathewson, cross, grimy and perspiring, emerged from the engine room, where, for two hours, he had been tinkering with his ancient engines. Glancing about for a seat he spied the box with Jimmy’s bundles still resting upon it. Drawing his blackened pipe from his pocket he rammed it full, seated himself on the edge of the box, and raising one leg, drew a match across the seat of his overalls. Whether the movement upset his balance or whether the box gave way, no one ever knew.
There was a startled oath, a crash, and the engineer sprawled upon the deck in the midst of a sticky, yellow mass that had been two dozen fresh eggs. Swearing, he scrambled to his feet just as Jimmy appeared, and seizing the frightened boy by the collar, he began cuffing him roundly, at the same time berating him for leaving eggs in such a place.
The hubbub aroused the skipper from a well-earned nap, and clad in under-shirt and drawers, he came rushing from his room.
"Leave the lad be!" he shouted. "Damn ye, you Dundee loafer of a mechanic!"
"Dom versel'!" retorted Mathewson. “I’ll teach him to waste good eggs an’ make sport of a Mathewson!"
''Leave go of him or I'll log you!” yelled the thoroughly irate skipper.
"I'm the owner an' if ye log me I’ll fire ye!" shouted the engineer.
Then, the humor of the situation dawning upon them, the two grinned and Mathewson released his grip on Jimmy’s collar.
“Faith, what’s a few eggs to bring trouble ‘twixt old shipmates?” said Kirkby.
“Hoot mon!” exclaimed the other. “’Tis but a matter of substitutein’ omelet for fried eggs, I’m thinkin’.”
Grinning foolishly, the two shook hands and peace was once more established. Then, for several hours, the Mamie worked slowly but surely toward her goal, until one morning, with a jar that shook the tug from stem to stern, and played havoc with the crockery in the galley, she ran hard and fast aground on an unsuspected sand bar.
It seemed as if the unfortunate Mamie’s eventful cruise had come to a final end, and that she was fated to leave her long-suffering old bones in the sand of Pamlico Sound. Every effort to free her from the bar was fruitless. Her engines strained and raced and labored until they bade fair to tear the craft to pieces, and the bitts bent and creaked to the strain of a hawser made fast to an anchor astern, without even budging the boat from her bed of tenacious sand.
''There's no more we can do but jettison the coal,” declared Kirkby at last. "‘Tis a mortal shame, Donald lad, but 'tis better to lose coal than ship.”
"Aye, dom it," agreed Mathewson. "An' Heaven alone kens where we'll get more. Mon, but it grieves me to think of heavin’ good coals o'er the side, pounds an' pounds' worth goin’ to the bottom of the cursed Sound!"
But there was no other course to follow, and all hands fell to work heaving over the deckload of precious fuel. Suddenly a cry from Jimmy drew their attention, and the excited boy pointed to a distant smudge of smoke on the horizon,
"'Tis the intervention of Providence!" declared the engineer. "Set signals, Jerry, an’ we'll be havin' help soon.”
For a time the distant steamer appeared to give no heed to the distress signals fluttering at the tug's staff, but at last the anxious watchers on the stranded boat saw that the other vessel was approaching. Rapidly she drew near and proved to be a revenue cutter. To the natty officer who boarded the Mamie, Kirkby told his tale of woe, and the lieutenant smilingly offered to transfer the remaining coal to the cutter, haul the tug from the bar and replace the coal.
By midday the Mamie was once more afloat with her deckload again in place. But if anything, those upon the tug were worse off than before. As she had been dragged free her propeller had struck a snag and had been badly damaged, and she was as helpless as though still aground.
Repairs were compulsory, and in tow of the cutter, the crippled vessel was headed for the nearest port. How they were to have their ship docked and the screw repaired when their total capital was less than fifty dollars was a problem that even the canny Scotch engineer or his equally resourceful captain could not solve. But luck,
In safety she reached the end of her inland journey, and turning eastward, buried her blunt bows in the Atlantic, headed for Nassau. But those upon the towboat never saw New Providence Island. A terrific thunderstorm swept across the passage just as the coast had dropped from sight, and the Mamie, laboring heavily, was forced to turn tail and run before the gale.
When day dawned she was far off her course and on every side white water told of the proximity of dangerous coral reefs. At a snail's pace the tug threaded her way through the maze of Bahama Cays, several times bumping on submerged reefs, but at last reaching open water with
“We’ll be firin’ on wood cut fra the bush an’ paid for by our own sweat, I’m thinkin’,” he said to Kirkby. “Do ye ken some good anchorage where we’ll be handy to water, an’ with hardwood trees near?”
The shipper assured him that he knew just the spot, and twirled the wheel slightly. Nearer and nearer they approached the Cuban coast, a wild, apparently uninhabited area heavily wooded and promising fuel and water in plenty.
Then, from the shelter of an unseen cove, a little steamer darted out, and before the amazed crew of the tug realized what had happened a puff of smoke rose from the gunboat’s bows and a shell screeched uncomfortably close to the Mamie’s nose.
“Dom the murderin’ dagoes!” cried Mathewson. “They’re takin’ us for a filibuster.”
“They’ll not dare fire on the British flag.” Declared Kirkby, as he ordered the faded ensign displayed and continued boldly on his course.
Evidently, however, the Cubans considered this merely a ruse, and when a second shell splintered into the tug’s bulwarks, Kirkby, swearing as only a Clyde captain can swear, decided discretion was the better part of valor and swung the Mamie off shore.
Never in all her checked career had the old tug made such good time as she did in dropping the inhospitable shores of Cuba astern. Regardless of the shortage of coal and water, Mathewson urged his engines to the utmost, and Baxter labored like a demon of the pit. Fortunately for them the gunboat’s engines were in a most dilapidated condition, she was a slow craft, and her gunner’s aim was poor. Despite her age the Mamie rapidly gained on her pursuer —by good fortune no shell found a mark in the creaking, throbbing tug, and at last the gunboat gave up the chase and steamed back to Cuba.
The Mamie’s crew had had quite enough of the Pearl of the Antilles, and a consultation between master and owner resulted in the tug being headed for Haiti.
By the time Cape Haitien was in sight Baxter was eking out the coal dust, scraped from the corners of the bunkers, with the ceiling of the deck houses. The last plank of the extemporized bulwarks had been consumed, and not ten gallons of water were left to replenish that in the boiler. But port was made, and with heartfelt thanks, Mathewson wiped the grime and sweat from his face and Baxter drew what remained of his fires. To be sure, the problem of buying coal was still before them, but there was plenty of water, and, as they thought, wood to be had for the cutting. The question of food was a much more pressing matter, however. For twenty four hours the crew had subsisted entirely upon a glutinous mixture of flour and meal mixed with an inadequate quantity of water, and, as Mathewson reminded them, his prophecy had been fulfilled and Baxter had been getting all he desired and more of exercise and reduced diet. But even in Cape Haitien food costs something, and the combined finances of the Mamie’s company amounted to just two dollars!
“A mon can buy a muckle of supply of bananas for two dollars,” remarked Mathewson. “An’ I’ve heard it said yon fruit will sustain a body.”
“Stow that!” exploded Kirkby. “They’ll not stick to one’s ribs. No, no, laddie, my lad, we’ll go foraging with the silver we have and let the lads go wanderin’ about. Maybe they can find a hen roost that’s not to well watched or a bit of garden with vegetables fit for human consumption.”
So, leaving the tug in charge of the mate, who Mathewson declared would manage to get drunk ashore even without money in his pockets, the others piled into the yawl boat and rowed to the ramshackle jetty.
The town appeared strangely deserted and scarcely a human being was in sight. Inquiries of the few aged or crippled negroes, loafing in the doorways of their huts, elicited the information that a football game between the British West Indians and the natives was in progress on the savanna, and that the population of the town, as well as all officials, had gone to the game.
“’Tis just as well," muttered the engineer. "There'll be fewer to look after their gardens an' their fowls."
Instructing the Barbadian, Tom; Jimmy, the cabin boy, and Baxter, to proceed into the country and forage on their own accounts, the skipper and engineer turned their steps toward the office of the British Consul, for Kirkby argued that His Majesty's representative might be induced to aid the Mamie as a British vessel in distress. But the consul, or rather the consular agent, was, like the others, at the game, as a card tacked to the door of his dingy office informed them.
Having nothing better to do the two seafarers trudged to the savanna, watched the game for a time, and then, finding it impossible to locate the consul, returned to town. For a long time they wandered about, pricing various foodstuffs and consulting on the best investment of their two precious dollars. Finally, in a squalid shop kept by a toothless negress, they found two scrawny hens which the old hag offered to sell for one dollar. It was by far the best bargain they had yet seen, and when, after endless haggling on the part of Mathewson, the negress offered to throw in two bottles of beer and a bottle of native rum for full measure, the Scot closed the deal.
With the skinny fowls under Kirkby’s arms and the liquor in Mathewson’s bulging pockets, and still in possession of one dollar, the two men made their way to the jetty where they found Baxter awaiting them, his coat knotted into a sack filled with yams and bananas. Jimmy soon arrived with a broad grin and a shirt filled with mangoes, and soon afterward Tom put in an appearance chewing a huge section of sugar cane and presenting a most astonishingly corpulent aspect. Not until all were safely aboard the tug would he divulge the secret of his sudden increase in girth, which proved to be a limp but fairly plump decapitated turkey hen, half a dozen avocado pears, a dozen or so oranges, a number of yams and sweet potatoes and two loaves of sticky brown sugar, as well as several loaves of native bread wrapped in plantain leaves.
"Glory to God!'' exclaimed Mathewson fervently, as the grinning negro disgorged his load. "Ye missed your vocation, me lad. Ye should ha' been a commissary sergeant, I'm thinkin’.”
That night the Mamie's crew feasted royally, but Mathewson refused positively to serve even a drop of the fiery rum.
"No, no," he said. "We'll be conservin’ that for emergencies, me lads. I'm no teetotaler as ye ken, but five men an’ a boy canna have a spree on one bottle of rum, an' time may come when a wee drop of spirits will be sair needed, I'm thinkin’.”
Comfortably filled with good food for the first time in weeks, the Mamie's crew slept soundly that night, and the engineer, coming first on deck the following morning, saw a big German tramp entering port. The ensign at her stern brought an oath from his lips, but his eyes lit up as he saw that she was deeply laden, and that coal was piled half the height of her squat funnel on the deck.
"Hoot, Jerry, me lad!" he shouted. "I'm minded to board yon Dutchman. Where there's engines there may be Scots, an 'twould be a discredit to the profession did an engineer refuse a wee bit coal to a ship in distress.”
Unobtrusively boarding the tramp and making his way unnoticed to the engine room, Mathewson found to his delight that a fellow countryman was in charge, and to him he told his story.
“As for me ye can fill yon towboat wi’ coals an' welcome," declared the tramp’s engineer. "But as ‘tis ye'll have to get permission of the captain "
Dubiously Mathewson approached the fat, red-faced skipper and made his plea.
"H'm, vere is dot sheep?" grunted the German.
Mathewson pointed to the Mamie whose ensign hung limply at her staff.
One glance the German took, and turned on Mathewson in a fury.
"You tarn Englisher!" he roared. "You tink I gif you one tarn pit of mine coal? Ged off mine sheep!"
Mathewson's face grew purple. "Dom ye for a murderin' Hun!" he shouted, shaking his huge fist in the other's face. "Step ashore like a man an' I'll bash that swine face ye wear till your ain cook'll mistake it for a beefsteak! Aye, I'll be gettin' off your dommed ship, an' washin' my feet in the sea to take the stench of her from them!"
Still fuming, he reached the tug, and for the next half hour shook his fist at the German steamer and cursed steadily, never using the same oath twice. Then, having exhausted his profane vocabulary as well as his temper, he hatched a new scheme to secure the essential coal, for he had made two important discoveries. One was that no wood could be cut without paying exorbitant price for it—the other, gained in his conversation with the engineer of the tramp, that his former ship, the Fontabelle, was at Barbados, and that, her master was Carmichael.
Could he get in touch with Carmichael by cable, the latter he knew would gladly cable back funds as a loan and all troubles would be over. Telling Kirkby of his plans, the two were pulled ashore.
Leaving the skipper to his own devices, Mathewson strode to the office of the British consular agent and found the latter to be a chocolate-colored individual from
"I’m Donald Mathewson, owner of the ship Mamie lyin' in the harbor you," he announced by way of introduction. "We've met wi' a bit of misfortune an' loss, an' have put into port in semi-distress," he continued.
The dusky representative of Great Britain nodded and smiled. "And you desire help?" he asked.
"Coal," replied the other succinctly.
"There is none here, with the exception of that belonging to the government," explained the consular agent. "A small quantity that has been stored here for some years, since the last rebellion in fact. And," he added, "I have no authority to render financial aid or to take any steps on my own initiative. I am merely a commercial agent in reality."
"Tis not financial help I'm askin' of ye.” declared the engineer a bit angrily, for the other's tone rather implied that he looked upon Mathewson as an object of charity. “I’m seeking to get a cable to the purchaser of the ship over yonder to
The consular agent's eyebrows lifted. “You mean you have insufficient funds to dispatch a cable?" he asked.
“Hoot, mon, no," declared the engineer. “’Tis an order for more hundreds of pounds than ye ever laid eyes to that’s reposin’ in my possession. But devil a bit of good it does me in this Heaven-forsaken spot ‘Tis a draft I canna’ cash this side Barbados.”
The consular agent grinned. To him the situation was decidedly humorous. It was inconceivable that men should start from
Realizing that the two white men must be in dire need of fuel and that there was a chance thereby to make a neat profit for himself, he brazenly demanded forty dollars a ton for the coal.
Mathewson nearly had a stroke of apoplexy at this. He spluttered and fumed, swore he'd see the fellow hanged first, and then, finding that the Haitian's knowledge of English was far too limited to permit him to appreciate the uncomplimentary names bestowed upon him, the engineer took the only possible course and commenced to bargain with the black robber. Cent at a time the latter came down in his demands until twenty dollars was reached.
"Verra well, ye tar-colored shark,” muttered Mathewson. “How many ton of coal ha’ ye yonder?”
But the other did not know. It was stored, he told them, in a shed at the terminus of a railway which the government had started to build, but which had been abandoned after three miles of track had been laid. But, he added, the gentlemen could go and see for themselves.
“That we will.'" growled the engineer, "Did ye delude yersel wi' the idea that we'd be purchasin’ yon coal wi’out inspection?"
A long and hot tramp through weed-grown waste land brought the two men to the rotting and rusty structure of corrugated iron which was supposed to house the coal for which Mathewson had agreed to pay almost its weight in gold. As they saw the place and noted the good size of the trees which had I grown up before the sagging door, Mathewson whistled.
"Jerry, mon, do ye see yon trees?" he exclaimed, "Gosh Almighty, yon coal ha' been here so long I misdoubt 'twill burn.”
Squeezing between the tree trunks, the two pried the door open and peered within.
"There'll be some ten ton," announced the engineer, "But providin' 'twill make steam ‘twill carry us to St. Thomas, I'm thinkin’."
"H'm, two hundred dollars 'twill cost us to make St. Thomas!" commented the captain. "And not worth a penny more than two pounds the ton.”
"Needs must when the devil drives," the other reminded him. "An' 'twill be a sore, back-breakin’ job to transport it to the jetty."
"The niggers will make little of that," said Kirkby.
"Niggers!” ejaculated the engineer. “’Tis our ainselves that’ll be carryin’ it. I’ll not leave another ha’penny wi’ these black robbers.”
Very soon, however, the two men had other matters than the coal to occupy their minds and cause them to worry. That day and the next passed with no response from Carmichael, and Mathewson was beside himself with anxiety, while the consular agent began to act coldly. Then, to add to their troubles, Kirkby was arrested and clapped into the calaboose on the charge of being a filibuster, the German captain, it developed later, having spread the rumor, and the consular agent flatly refused to provide the two hundred dollars bail demanded.
As Mathewson was leaving the office, mad as a hornet and worried almost to distraction, a ragged negro arrived from the cable office, and instantly the consular agent’s attitude underwent a sudden alteration. Carmichael had responded. He had cabled the hundred pounds, and the engineer's troubles on that score were over. Half the sum would be required to secure the skipper's release, the balance would barely pay for the coal, but the Scotch engineer of the Mamie had no intentions of paying two hundred dollars bail for his captain and then losing it by shaking the dust of Cape Haitien from his feet. Neither did he have any idea of loitering in the black republic until Kirkby could be tried and acquitted of the trumped-up charges. He knew something of the Haitians and their ways, and that night fifty dollars judiciously bestowed resulted in the skipper going free.
The next day the tug’s crew toiled like slaves, carting the precious coal from it’s resting place to the jetty. Scarcely was the last ton on board the Mamie when two black officials, garbed in ragged and dirty but most ornate uniforms, arrived in a patched and battered boat and informed the weary Mathewson and Kirkby that the tug would not be permitted to depart until a little matter of port charges, amounting to one hundred and fifty dollars, was paid.
It was the last straw, and having vented their feelings on the grinning but unmoved representatives of the Haitian government, the captain and engineer betook themselves to the office of the consular agent.
“The charges are wholly unjustified,” he informed them, after looking over the bill that had been rendered. “It’s downright robbery, but I’m afraid you will be forced to pay it.”
“I’ll be dommed first!” exploded Mathewson. “Look, mon, if we dinna pay them what can they do? Ha’ they gunboats or means to prevent the Mamie fra sailin’ fra this den of thieves?”
“There's no gunboat here,” the agent assured him "But one is stationed ten miles east of here, near the Dominican border. Also, there is a fort with two serviceable guns on the bluff yonder.”
"Verra well,” muttered the engineer. “Ye need know naught of our plans. But I’ll not pay a ha’penny more, the Mamie ‘ll sail or I’m no Mathewson.”
Quite casually the two strolled to the fort, and while Kirkby made an attempt to chat with the four slouching negro soldiers on duty, and treated them to villainous cigars of native make, Mathewson wandered about, and leaning carelessly on each obsolete muzzle-loading cannon in turn, apparently gazed admiringly at the scene spread below.
“’Twill be a bit of a surprise, I’m thinkin’,” he chuckled, as the two left the fort. “’Twould be fair amusin’ to see them when they touch match to vents an’ naught happens. Jerry, mon, ‘tis the hand of the Lord that placed a beach yonder wi’ black sand most amazin’ like gunpowder.”
“And the devil gave you the idea of substitutin’ the same for the primin’ of the guns.” grinned the captain.
Feeling perfectly secure, as far as any danger from the fort was concerned, the two men pulled quite joyously for the Mamie, for the next step they intended taking was exactly to their liking. The two gaudily attired officials were still on board, and with a whispered order to the mate, Kirkby took a stand beside the Haitians. Mathewson dodged below and reappeared an instant later, but in the interim he had passed instructions to Baxter. The fires had already been started and the hand of the guage showed pressure, and had the two black port officers been at all observant they would have noticed a sudden belching of oily smoke from the tug’s funnel which followed suspiciously close upon the engineer’s visit to the boiler room. But that any one would dare disregard their orders and their presence never occurred to them. As Mathewson and Kirkby commenced to bargain for a reduction of the charges made, they figuratively licked their chops in anticipation of the money they would pocket by their highbinder tactics.
Half an hour passed and the engineer was still haggling, although about to accede to their demands, when there was a roar from the whistle.
At the unexpected sound, the two Haitians started and wheeled about. Instantly brawny hands gripped their tinsel braided collars and scarlet trousers’ seats. There were two terrified yells smothered by two splashes alongside the Mamie, and the black rascals were struggling in the water. Frantically they tried to clamber up the tug’s side, only to be beaten off by ropes’ ends and handspikes. Spluttering, gasping and gurgling dire threats in patois French, they saw the Mamie slowly gather headway and slip by, leaving them.
“’Tis a bath they sair needed.” observed the engineer, as he leaned over the rail and watched the drenched officials climb into their craft. “An’ I’m thinkin’ ‘twas a Christian deed to gi’ it to them.”
On the parapet of the fort the soldiers could be seen, rushing about and gesticulating excitedly, but no report, no smoke, issued from the guns Mathewson had so simply and effectively put out of commission.
To be sure, little puffs of smoke showed, as the soldiers aimed and fired their muskets at the speeding tug, but their ancient Axtons were rusty, they were execrable marksmen, and not a bullet came within five hundred yards of the Mamie.
The fleeing craft was not yet out of the danger zone, however. Down the coast lurked a small gunboat, a mere launch to be sure, but mounting a one pounder, and the tug, following the channel between the reef and shore, could not evade her. Moreover, there was no doubt of the patrol boat being notified of the Mamies’ approach. The port officers would telegraph the moment they reached shore, even if the soldiers at the fort did not; and, long before the tug hove in sight, the armed
Haitian craft would be racing to head her off.
Kirkby and Ma
It was all over in a few moments, and Kirkby, chuckling at the success of the venture, slowed the Mamie to half speed and cunningly navigated through a narrow channel in the reef and gained the open sea.
Haitian waters were astern, but for several hundred miles ahead the would be skirting the coast of the Dominican Republic, and those on the tug thought it highly probable that the Haitians would wire to their neighbors to have the Mamie captured.
And when, as they neared Puerto Plata, the crew of the tug saw a gray hulled war vessel emerging from the harbor, they felt their game was up. To resist the cruiser or to attempt to outrun her was impossible, and all resigned themselves to capture. Then, to their unutterable relief, the cruiser’s stern came into view and they saw the Stars and Stripes at the jackstaff. It was an American ship, and paying not the least heed to the Mamie, the cruiser swung northward and rapidly dropped from sight.
By the time night descended on the Caribbean the last port of Santo Domingo was astern and the bulk of Porto Rico loomed faintly on the eastern horizon. Tired, exhausted from their hard work of coaling and the excitement and worries of the day, the captain and engineer longed for rest, and leaving Tisdale at the helm, the two flung themselves on their bunks. Tom the Barbadian was on watch—there seemed nothing to fear in the broad
“Call me if you see anything.” He ordered Tom, as he closed his eyes.
Half an hour later, skipper, engineer and mate were brought to consciousness with a jerk, as the Mamie, with a shudder and crash, came to a full and abrupt stop.
“Hey, you!” roared Tisdale, cuffing Tom aside and whirling the wheel and jerking the bell-pull for full speed astern. “why in hell didn't you call me?”
Tom, his eyes rolling wildly, and frightened half to death, cowered in a corner. “Yo’ tol’ me for to call yo' if Ah did see anything, chief," he babbled. “An’ Ah don' did see anything. Befo’ Heaven Ah don’, chief."
Cursing roundly, Kirkby dashed to
"Master Tisdale, he tol' me for to steer for the light," he said. "An' Ah follow his instructions mos’ explicit. Heaven knows Ah did, chief "
"Aye, ye dommed idiot," growled Mathewson. "Ye did that, an' hadna' it been for the interveenin’ of Providence, ye'd ha' had the Mamie climbin’ of the rocks yonder.”
By the time the tug was once more afloat and on her way, all aboard were in dire need of rest, and when, soon after noon, she neared
A mile or two offshore, a three-masted schooner lay becalmed, and as
“There’s some’at wrong wi’ her,” declared Mathewson, as he studied her through the glasses.
“Tug ahoy!” came the hail from the schonner, as the Mamie came within bearing distance. “What’s your figure for a tow into Arecibo?”
Mathewson grinned and nudged Kirkby in the ribs. "Didna’ I say there’d be money in the towin’ business?” he cried triumphantly. "Hoot, mon! We're pickin' up business already. What'll be the legal rate, Jerry lad?"
“Hanged if I know," replied Kirkby. “'Tis a matter of four miles. I think ten pound'll be fair enough."
The engineer cast a withering, scornful glance at the captain. Then, cupping his hands, he bawled: “A hundred dollars or nothin’.”
Without a word of dissent the schooner's captain gave a gesture of assent, and as the Mamie swung close, a heaving-line was flung and the schooner's hawser was hauled in. And as the hempen cable tautened and the tug, with the schooner at the end of the towline, slowly chugged toward port, Kirkby and Mathewson forgot all worries.
Their luck had turned. The Mamie was earning good money for them, and as elated as boys they capered and chuckled in the wheelhouse. But when, having safely brought the schooner to her moorings and having been duly paid the hundred dollars, they discovered they might legally have charged twice the amount, they cursed themselves and each other for addle-headed fools. Then, deciding that half a loaf was far better than no bread, they turned in.
The much needed rest made new men of all on board. With three hundred dollars in their possession they felt like millionaires, and having laid in an ample supply of provisions, they headed for St. Thomas.
There they coaled, but having gained wisdom by experience, they forbore taking on a deckload, for with what the Mamie could carry below decks Mathewson was confident they could make
"I don't like the looks of the clouds," he confided to the engineer, "'Tis the hurricane season, Donald, and the sun and haze is breedin’ a blow."
"The glass'd tell if it had na' gone bad,” muttered Mathewwn. "But, hoot mon! 'Tis but the half of a day's run to St. Croix, an' if it comes to blow over much we can make Fredrikstad."
Rapidly the clouds overcast the sky. The haze took on a yellowish, brassy tint. The sun glowed with a dull, coppery hue, and the blue Caribbean heaved in long, greasy rollers that told of tempestuous weather not far distant. By the time the velvety green hills of St. Croix were within sight the wind was coming in sudden, hot, savage puffs that whipped the water into spray. The sky was a dull, inky black, and Mathewson urged his engines to their utmost speed in order to make port before the tempest was upon them. Even in the roadstead off the little town of Fredrikstad the seas came roaring in and the wind blew a gale. Wildly the Mamie rolled and pitched, threatening at each lurch to tear funnel and deck houses loose. Realizing that if a real hurricane swept down upon the island the tug would inevitably be lost, Kirkby ordered the anchor up, and at imminent peril of being swamped, jockeyed the Mamie around the point and brought her to anchor in a somewhat sheltered bay.
By midafternoon the outer fringe of the hurricane was upon them. Great curling seas came racing, thundering in, and even with both anchors and all her cable out, the Mamie dragged slowly shoreward to the iresistible force of wind and waves.
“I'm thinkin' 'tis on yon beach
"Aye, Donald," roared the skipper. "But I’ll not be desertin’ my ship. Send the lads ashore and go yourself, but I stop here.”
"Ye dommed obstinate-headed loony!" cried the engineer. “Ye may bide here and be dommed to it, but I’m biding alangside of ye. Aye, till the Mamie takes ground or goes to the bottom. But the lads go ashore.”
Then, gripping hands, the two old shipmates calmly filled and lighted their pipes, and in the lurching, creaking wheelhouse sat silently smoking and awaiting their fate. They had not long to wait. The waves were now breaking over the tug's bows; the craft pitched and reeled drunkenly, as though half filled with water, and several times she shook with a sickening jar as she touched bottom in the troughs of the seas. Then, as a huge, onrushing, white-crested comber came tearing, roaring, thundering upon her, she seemed to rear on end, the towering wall of water burst with a report like a cannon over the decks; the superstructure was lifted, rent, shattered, and the two men found themselves, struggling, battling, in a chaos of churning water and shattered planking.
Grasping a bit of wreckage, they clung to it with all their strength, and though the maddened seas tore at them, buffeted them and broke over them, they passed in safety through the maelstrom and were cast, gasping, gulping, half drowned upon the beach, to be dragged above reach of the waves by their companions.
As Kirkby regained his breath he glanced across the heaving waste of waters.
"Praise God, there was not a soul lost," he exclaimed, and then: "Didn't I tell you I'd stick to my ship to the last? And did ye note I was still stickin' to the bit remainin' when the lads hauled me ashore?"
"Aye," muttered the other. "But 'tis fair sick an’ sair I am to think of yon good coals gone to Davy Jones, an' we wi’ but one towin' job for all our troubles and worryin’.”
Then, as he caught sight of some object bobbing in the backwash from the waves, he rose and strode toward the thing.
"Hoot, mon!" he shouted to the others as he held it up. "Do ye ken what ‘tis? ‘Tis yon bottle of rum fra
“Aye, ladies,” he went on, as he passed
Then, the bottle having gone the rounds of the men, he raised it to his own mouth. “An’” he said with a twinkle in his eyes as he smacked his lips, “I’ll not be omittin’ to mention that we ha’ a matter of fifteen odd pounds none the worse for a wettin’, an’ a wee bit comin’ to us fra the underwriters. Hoot, lads! It might be worse—aye, muckle worse, what wi' lives and silver."
Draining the last of the fiery liquor, he flung the empty bottle at a mass of seeming rock protruding from the sand a few yards distant. To his amazement the bottle, instead of crashing into a thousand fragments, struck with a soft, squashy thud and dropped intact upon the sand. Feeling that he must be out of his senses, Mathewson strode forward, and the next moment uttered a wild yell that brought the others.
"Was ever such luck!" he shouted, falling to his knees beside the irregular, grayish mass. " 'Tis the dispensation of
"Ambergris!" reiterated Kirkby.
"An' dinna ye be forgettin' 'twas the scheme of a Mathewson to take yon Mamie to sea, an' the wit of a Mathewson that brought ye here," interpolated the engineer.
Crowding close, fingering the spongy, sodden mass that represented a small fortune, the men, their chilled bodies warmed by the rum, laughed and babbled excitedly, feverishly, scarcely able to realize the marvelous good fortune that had come to them through the loss of the tug.
Presently Tom looked up, a broad grin on his black face. "Beggin' yo' pardon, chief," he said. "Ah don' rightly comprehen' 'bout this ample-grease t'ing, but howsomever 'tis, it look like to me the rum what cause we to fin' he."
"Aye, an' it cost us never a ha'penny," chuckled Ma